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Monday, January 30, 2017

SPRING TRAINING: Arizona



Ed - In conjunction with Tim's Spring Training Primer report at Tim's Sports World, we're running this article from our Spring Training trip...

In the midst of Tim’s junior year of college, we finally caught a break…spring break, that is.  This year, it coincided with Spring Training, something we’ve never done but always wanted to try.
Tim had just turned 21, so we told him we’d take him to the casinos of Nevada to celebrate.  After a couple of days there (Tim actually had some luck on the Roulette wheel), we headed across Hoover Dam and into Arizona.
Looking at the Cactus League schedule for that time, we saw that our team…the Angels…were to be playing the Texas Rangers at the Ranger’s facility, Surprise Stadium.  The stadium was on the way, so we stopped by and picked up tickets for the next day’s game.


It was an easy and quick transaction at the box office and had no problems at all securing a wheelchair seat plus two companion seats about 2/3 of the way from home plate to first base at the top of the field level seating bowl.
It’s a bit of a drive from Surprise to Phoenix.  Everything is a bit of a drive in Phoenix.
Our hotel would be the Phoenix Inn and Suites, a decent place with large rooms and roll-in showers.  Now, it’s called Hampton Inn Biltmore.
For dinner, we went to Coyote Grill on Bell Road in Scottsdale, a very good place…at least it was.  It’s now been replaced by a Scottish-themed Hooter’s knockoff.
The next day was spent lounging around the pool, waiting for game time.  Tim likes to get to games right when the gates open, so we left the hotel around 5:00 for the 7:30 game.  Good thing we did because the freeways stopped a ways before Surprise.  Traffic was a nightmare on those surface streets that were just not designed for the amount of cars the ever-expanding Phoenix area was dumping on them. 
We arrived about 6:30, put on our red Angels shirts and hats, found our seats and settled in for the game. 
It’s a relaxed atmosphere at a spring training game.  The managers of the teams actually sit on the field behind home plate instead of the dugout to better see how their players’ forms are. After all, these are training sessions for them.
While a number of big stars take the field at the beginning, they are rotated off after a couple of innings so that new players, rookies, and minor leaguers can take the field and be assessed.

Still, it’s a baseball game.  Beer, hot dogs, 7th inning stretch…that’s all still there.  The night we went the crowd set a new attendance record at the stadium…over 12,000 in attendance with the majority wearing red and rooting for the Angels.
The Angels we on to win and we left happy.  As for the prices, it can get a bit spendy. I was expecting minor league prices but in actuality, it’s somewhere between what you’d spend at a minor league game and a regular season game.
The next morning, we drove over to Tempe to see the Angels’ facility at Tempe Diablo Stadium.  There was no game but the team was working out.  Watching the workout was free and the access into the seating bowl presents no barriers to those in wheelchairs.  In this pre-2008 season workout, it was easy to get up close and personal with such players as Vladimir Guerrero, Garret Anderson, and Chone Figgins who have all gone on to other teams or retirement.
It’s a loose and friendly atmosphere and you can actually chat with the players and coaches.  Many will come to the sidelines to autograph balls or other mementos.  First base coach Alfredo Griffin took a bucket of balls and a Sharpie which he used to sign balls and toss to fans in the stands one at a time.


It was a fun way to welcome baseball back for the year and to get excited for another season of our favorite sport.  The Angels would go on to win their division but get knocked out by the Red Sox in the first round of playoffs.
For more information, see our Field of Dreams report on Surprise Stadium and visit cactusleague.com for Arizona Spring Training information.
-Darryl
Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved




Sunday, January 29, 2017

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Scottsdale Cocktails


We're on location for another Cocktail Hour here at The World on Wheels. This time, we're coming to you from the Valley of the Sun...it's beautiful and warm Scottsdale, Arizona.

Not quite a pub crawl, we filmed this over several days when we visited the Scottsdale and Phoenix areas.


Watch the Video!


We start off with some easy to get to sips, no driving required...



It's the cocktail lounge of our hotel, the Marriott McDowell Mountains Resort.  Beer and wine are on tap as we relax by the firepit.

Next, it's a set of tasters at Harrold's Corral, a cowboy steakhouse and bar in nearby Cave Creek.  



Although the place is down-to-earth and not fancy, they do serve some mighty good microbrews.



Then it's a trip on Phoenix's light rail system so we can try the powerful tropical cocktails at Hula in downtown Phoenix.



The mai tais are sweet and powerful but we find a few others to like too.



Lastly, it's the night before a big bowl game in Tempe.  Can you believe this oldster got carded at the bar?



It's at Dos Gringos where we try some average Cadillac margaritas and the waitress gets our order wrong not once, not twice, maybe even more than three times...but we just gave up at that point.

It's all in the video above, click on "Play" and let's get this party started!

Cheers!

Darryl

Friday, January 27, 2017

Road Food - Scottsdale

I just found out that one of my favorite Scottsdale restaurants, The Coyote Grill, is no more.  For you snowbirds or anyone else who finds themselves in Scottsdale, here are some of our remaining favorite dining options:

Scottsdale, Phoenix's tonier next door neighbor, continues to be a big draw for us. It's a wonderful, accessible city with some truly world-class hotels. In the off season (the hot summertime), those hotels can be had for a song.

It's also a place where dozens of outstanding restaurants call home. Here are some favorites we've found along the way...

THE GOOD EGG is a local chain of coffee shops. Although open all day, the specialty here is breakfast. We've had some delicious omelettes along with more traditional fare such as pancakes and bacon & eggs. All were very delicious and the service was top notch with reasonable prices.

REATA PASS used to be located way out in the middle of nowhere. It's an old 1882 stagecoach stop from the old west days that is now a steakhouse and bar. The middle of nowhere has now turned into just another neighborhood of huge, sprawling Scottsdale but this short stretch of Alma School Road will take you back to the days gone by. In the warm months, big juicy steaks are grilled under the stars while you're serenaded by country and western singers. The food's delicious and the view of the mountains and stars can't be beat. Prices here are very reasonable but you need to check with the bartender for the accessible route to the dining area. It's also a very long drive from downtown Scottsdale. Don't come here in the off season before April, though. The outdoor section is closed in the cooler weather. (Reata Pass has closed, unfortunately, for cowboy steaks, we now head north to the town of Cave Creek and Harold's Corral - Ed)

OLD TOWN TORTILLA FACTORY has an unfortunate name. It's kind of corny like the Old Spaghetti Factory and makes me think it will be kitschy...and maybe fun...but the food might not be so good. Nothing could be farther from the truth at this dinner only restaurant in downtown Scottsdale. The restaurant is housed in an old adobe residence with outdoor dining available on a cool tiled patio. There's a really neat fountain out there that spews fire along with the water. The bar (the tequilaria as it's called here) is located in another building across the patio from the restaurant proper. We had some delicious chorizo laced nachos for an appetizer followed by saucy chicken enchiladas and a Mexican style chicken croquette dish laced with Mexican crema. Very delicious and reasonably price at around ten dollars.

THE VILLAGE TAVERN located at the Gainey Village shopping center is like one of those classic national park lodges inside. The high ceiling is held aloft with huge, wooden beams with a big fireplace at one end of the dining room and the open kitchen at the other. Portions are huge here and prices are a little north of the mid-teens but the staff does not frown upon splitting entrees. My wife and I split the rib eye steak dinner here, which was very succulent, and had a double decker cheesecake for desert (cheesecake on one layer, chocolate mouse on the other...mmmmm!) and left with a bill under $35 dollars.

For truth in advertising, go no further than Cold Beers & Cheeseburgers in the heart of old Scottsdale for, well, great beer and cheeseburgers. The brunch is also outstanding and you'll never miss any sporting event at this well TV'd sports bar.



Darryl
Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Bernard Gagnon under CC-BY-SA license

Monday, January 23, 2017

Scottsdale and Phoenix: The Season of the Wolf




The weather is perfect, clear and heading to a high of 68. Great day for a walk. A quick Internet search reveals that there's a nice, long, wheelchair accessible trail in Papago Park by the zoo.


Either via hard packed dirt or paved with asphault, you can tackle this approximately 3 mile trail that winds in a loop up to the base of those giant rocks in Papago Park. A ramada at the top of the trail...maybe a 500 foot elevation gain, if that...provides a shady rest stop complete with water fountain.


Watch the Video


As we pack up Tim's backpack...one of the useful features of a power chair is that it's handy as a "pack mule"...with water and other necessities, Tim points out a nearby group of people with several dogs, one of which is much larger than the others.

"Is that a wolf," he asks.


No, I assure him, you wouldn't see anybody walking a wolf on a leash here. Probably a huskie or mamalmute.

Setting off, it's a leisurely pace as Letty works her magic on the camera and Tim and I wait for her to catch up now and again.


At the ramada, we relax and recharge our batteries.




It's easy to think we're out in the wilderness here but a glance to the west, with the skyscrapers of Phoenix on the horizon, reminds us we're still in town.


Going over the top of the loop, it's another quarter mile before the trail then goes through a golf course. We thing the scenery is better the other way, so we double back to return the way we came.

As we're waiting at the top, Tim sees the group of people with the dogs coming up upon us.

"I wonder what kind of dog that is," he says.

"I'll ask...excuse me, what kind of dog is that?" I ask the biker-looking dude with the large dog.


"It's a wolf," he replies.

I guess I was mistaken...

Turns out this is Willow the wolf, who is a movie animal and is being walked by her trainer. He tells us that she is scheduled to be in a couple of movies and TV shows coming up such as a sequel to "Dances with Wolves" and a new "Teen Wolf" series.

It's a beautiful, mellow animal and is huge...almost Great Dane size.


We walk down with the group, the wolf, and the other dogs while Letty snaps away.

Afterward, we go to a nearby light rail station and try out Phoenix's first light rail system to go have drinks in downtown Phoenix (see it in our Cocktail Hour - Scottsdale Cocktails).


The one line is long, going all the way from Gilbert in the southeast to the northern part of Phoenix's downtown area.  It's smooth, easily wheelchair accessible, cheap, and comfortable. What we do notice lacking, however, is parking lots at the stations. There are very few.  It seems like it might get more riders if commuters had a place to park when using it.

Afternoon time is break time back at the hotel while we rest up, nap, and shower for dinner.

We have reservations at what is supposed to be one of the area's best Mexican restaurants in Old Town Scottsdale but when we show up, we find that they did not hold a wheelchair accessible table for us.


Walking out on that, we go a couple of blocks away to Dos Gringos, more of an outdoor bar than a restaurant, and get carded as we walk in.

It's a bowl game night...the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is being contested nearby in Tempe...and the bouncer says everybody, no matter how old, is carded today.


Dos Gringos has a fun atmosphere, average drinks, and ok food that our server never quite got right. Still, it was fun and being at an outdoor party on our final night was fun.

In the morning, it's another stop at The Good Egg for breakfast, gassing up on cheap gas at Costco, then a six hour drive home.



Darryl
Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved


Friday, January 20, 2017

Sultry Scottsdale


In a way, it's sad that the Valley of the Sun can't learn from the mistakes of the giant to the west. Every time we come here, vast tracts that used to be empty desert are now covered with houses and shopping centers. I'd love to say the area has stopped expanding but that's not happening anytime soon.



Still, it's nice to come to Scottsdale for a getaway now and then.

The first time we came here a quarter century ago, the spot we're at now was a saguaro covered desert with the occasional millionaire's mansion or ranch. A dirt road would have been the rule rather than the exception. Now, the 101 Loop Freeway features daily traffic jams leading to thousands of homes and dozens of shopping centers.


Watch the Video!

A ways beyond the north end of the Scottsdale airport runway is our hotel for this trip, Marriott's McDowell Mountains Resort, located on the TPC Champions Golf Course. The room is a 2-room suite with a roll-in shower, dual flat screen TVs, a fridge, wet bar, and one robe...Letty will get to use that.


Outside is a pool and spa, both with lifts, and the previously mentioned golf course. It's pretty much all wheelchair accessible but, unless you use the valet, the parking is a bit of a walk. A restaurant, bar, and mini-store complete the lobby. There are complementary PCs and free wifi in the lobby but you'll pay $12.95 a day in your room to use it...we got around this by using my iPhone as a hot spot.


After unpacking, we retreat to the large balcony by a fireplace and enjoy a drink overlooking the golf course and pools before retiring to our room for the night.

The Good Egg is a local chain of restaurants in the Phoenix area. I think you can guess what their specialty is.

We had a delicious breakfast, saw a beautiful Rolls Royce parked outside the window by our table, and found out from the owner that this was the second car built at the factory in 1961.

"I can't even get the Rolls Royce dealer here in town to maintain it," he lamented.

Seems like he might be good with a wrench, though.


A few miles away, though still in the same town, we take a stroll through Old Scottsdale...the center of town and maintained like it was when the city was more of a village.


A volunteer asks if he can show me where I might find something but I know where we're headed, so instead he shows us his perfectly restored 1951 Dodge truck. It is a beauty.

Carrying on, we come to the destination...very popular here in the extreme summer temperatures...the Sugar Bowl.


Scottsdale's classic ice cream parlor, painted up in pink and white, makes a great place to cool off with an icy dessert.

You can also peruse the custom "Family Circle" cartoons that loyal customer Bil Keane drew for them. This was where he'd take his family for a treat.

After some cookies 'n cream covered with caramel, we hit the road to rest and relax at the hotel until dinnertime.

The temperature, at around 70 degrees, tempts us to go into the pool and try those lifts, but we decide to wait a day for that. Tonight, instead, we're heading north thirty minutes past Carefree to Cave Creek where the residents truly seem to live a care free life.



We want to have a cowboy steak. It's an increasingly rare thing to find. You can pay an arm and a leg to go to Rawhide, a western themed amusement park which does make a darn good steak; go to Pinnacle Peak, which we have back home; or find someplace else. We look hard and some places that are called "cowboy steakhouses" must figure burgers are steaks because that's the only thing they sell.

Cave Creek, still a dusty cowboy town (a recent tied election was settled with a flip of a coin), fits the bill tonight. We're going to Harold's Corral, a very large dining room with the steaks we came for.



While Letty goes for the prime rib special, I have the ribeye with a selection of beer tasters. It is very good, very savory, and satisfies our need for this special "out west" style of dinner for us.

Tummies sated, it's time to hit the hay and we'll continue this tomorrow as we head out for a hike.



Darryl
Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, January 15, 2017

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: The LA Times Tries to Catch Up to The World on Wheels



The Los Angeles Times finally published their version of the Gold Line Pub Crawl this week but we here at The World on Wheels beat them to the punch months ago with not one but two Gold Line Pub Crawls.






As usual, ours is much more in depth and includes video of our misbegotten adventures. These are also guaranteed to be wheelchair accessible, too.  Click on the links below for all the fun.








Gold Line Pub Crawl Version 1.0








Gold Line Pub Crawl Version 2.0


Cheers!


Darryl

Friday, January 13, 2017

America's Breadbasket - California's Central Valley: Tulare County


Upon learning that we’d be going to one of his favorite restaurants in the world while he was at camp, Tim was not a happy camper. “Don’t worry,” I told him, “the weekend after you get back is a three day weekend…let’s go up there when you get home.”




Of course, if you followed our trip without Tim to Paso Robles, you’ll know that we had to make an emergency trip to pick him up because he got sick.  And sick he was for a couple of days.  We didn’t know if he’d be well enough by the weekend to go, but thankfully he did get better and off we went.


Watch the video!

The restaurant, as many of you who know us will already guess, is the wonderful Los Tacos de Huicho in Bakersfield, California which sits at the southern end of the San Joaquin, or Central, Valley.




Yes, we did go to Huicho’s and, yes, the food was as absolutely delicious as always, but this trip is not about Huicho’s or even one of our favorite destinations, Bakersfield, all that much.
After dinner, it’s back on the 99 north to our next stop about an hour’s north…the Charter Inn and Suites in Tulare.  The hotel, which sits adjacent to the freeway as Prosperity Avenue, is about the best hotel I know of in the Central Valley along the 99 corridor.
See More California Food Destinations in our Kindle E-Book!

Big, spacious rooms with a great hot breakfast buffet.  Monday through Wednesday, they also include dinner. There’s a lending library in the lobby, a nice pool area with spa, a patio area with a barbecue, and a very good staff.
Our room was a king size suite. Not technically accessible but at least as accessible as many other “handicap” rooms we’ve stayed in that didn’t feature a roll-in shower.  Wide access areas for the wheelchair, comfortable bed, a queen size sofabed, a large bathtub which more than accommodated our bath chair, and good wifi access.  There are even robes in the closet.  All for around $90 – 100 per night.
The Central Valley is the biggest agricultural area in the country. It’s not the California of beaches and palm trees, but plays a vital role in providing you with the food on your table. This morning, we’ll see some of that first hand.


After breakfast, it’s over to nearby Visalia where a farmers market sets up in the local Sears parking lot each Saturday.  It’s jammed packed with produce, cheeses, eggs, and more.  It’s not set up like a lot of farmers markets back home where there are more craft vendors and kiddie rides than there are farmers.  Here, while there are a couple of non-food vendors, it’s all about the food.
And the food is amazingly good. Sweet donut peaches, large red grapes, figs, oranges, heirloom tomatoes, zucchini bigger than my arm, and many items that, frankly, I have no clue what they are but they look delicious.
Our plan is to load up on all the fresh produce we can, keep it in our air conditioned hotel room, and then pack on ice for the trip home in the hot, valley summer heat.  It worked like a charm and we dined like royalty on all that farm-fresh produce for a couple of weeks.
Back at the hotel, we pack the most perishable items into the small in-room fridge, and turn the a/c up for the rest.  We have a nice swim in the pool and then head over to Hanford, which is about 15 miles west of us.
It’s the 4th of July weekend and the temps are over the century mark.  In downtown Hanford, it’s 106 degrees. Not a problem.


The main reason we’re here in this beautiful little town is ice cream. One of the state’s…and probably the country’s…great, classic ice cream parlors sits across the street from the town’s plaza.  We’re talking about Superior Dairy.
In this location over 80 years, Superior is a gorgeous, small town ice cream emporium with brass chandeliers, pink booths and counter stools, and some of the most generous portions of frozen cream you’ll ever see.



Letty has just one scoop of rocky road.


Tim and I share two scoops of cookies and cream, covered with a rich caramel sauce and whipped cream.  Look at those two pictures.  That is quality ice cream served in gigantic portions.  Together, that’s about $7 worth of dessert.


Superior is also known for their S-O-S (Superior Oversized Sundae) sundae, pictured above, a gargantuan banana split that can easily feed four or more.


The cold ice cream cools us down nicely from the furnace outside. We walk across the street to the shady park that houses some beautifully restored buildings…the Municipal Auditorium, the Veteran’s Memorial Hall, and the old courthouse…across the street from an equally impressive restored Fox Theater.
It’s shady, with a cool fountain, a couple of snack stand, and lots of cool grass to play or lay on.  We see this little parakeet, probably someone’s escaped pet, happily chewing on stalks of grass.
In the evening, it’s back over to Visalia to visit the Rawhide.


Just south of Visalia’s great and walkable downtown is Recreation Park, an old minor league stadium. The team, going through lots of names over its 65 year history, is currently affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Rawhide are the Diamondbacks single A team playing in the California League.
In 2009, the stadium was renovated with new club level and grandstand down the right field/first base line. There are wheelchair seats along this area, where we sat, and also in the stands along the left field line.  There are a couple of accessible seats behind home plate about six rows back, but they’re behind an aisle and not too desirable.


Access to the level we sat at was via a slow, creaky lift that had to be repaired before we could use it…you can read more about in our stadium review.
At the game, it was a salute to military night with veteran’s throwing out the first pitch, different branches being honored each inning…i.e., one inning Navy active members and veterans were asked to stand up so the audience could applaud their service…another veteran singing God Bless America during the 7th inning stretch, and…most poignant of all…cadets setting and serving a dinner to an empty table in front of the mound to POWs and MIAs who should be there but are not.
The game itself was pretty exciting with the Rawhide easily handling the visiting Lake Elsinore Storm…even though the PA announcer called them the Inland Empire 66ers for two innings before he caught on.
The food was miserable and delicious.  The miserable was the Italian sausage that Letty had, the delicious was the incredibly good bratwurst that I got to replace it from a grill near our seats. A very good selection of beer, including local microbrews, topped the concession selections.
All in all, a very fun game with just a couple of glitches. Visalia’s a very fun place to be.
In the morning, we checked out, shopped the outlet mall behind our hotel, and moved south to Bakersfield. Here we checked in to the Marriott Springhill Suites, which is pretty much our vacation condo these days with all the time we spend in this town.
We wanted to take one more night and go to Huicho’s one more time.  Before that, though, we went to our favorite bar. I’m a fan of the margarita and love when one is made right. Here in Bakersfield is one of the best.


Mexicali, on 18th Street on the eastern edge of downtown along Mill Creek, makes the best I’ve had. Their house margarita made from scratch is a tarty little piece of heaven. Their Cadillac margarita takes what is the best plain margarita I’ve had up several notches on the taste scale. It is the nectar of the gods.
Along with the great drinks, the bar here is so comfortable and the people so friendly that it feels like home, having drinks with some old friends.  A truly classic, great, and dark bar.
On the morning of the 4th, after a fitful night of sleep as some other rude guests were shooting off firecrackers in the parking lot (necessitating many calls to security) in the middle of the night, we check out and head to Huichos. (Note…after complaining at checkout, the hotel manager knocked our rate down to $50).
On Friday, the people at Huichos told us they would be open on the 4th.  Between then and now, someone must have changed their mind because now they’re closed. Darn!
We’d saved up our appetite for this and were now disappointed.  Back in downtown, we were looking for somewhere…pretty much anywhere…that would be open on this holiday.  I see a burger stand with people working out back so I pull in.
Juicy Burger is a Five Guys knockoff located on 24th and  M Streets, in the same building as the University of La Verne’s Bakersfield satellite campus.  It looks just like Five Guys when you walk in and has a very similar menu.  It also has both Coke and Pepsi machines, so Coke and Pepsi fans should all be happy here.
We order some burgers and fries, not really expecting much.
The burgers were amazingly good. Juicy, cooked to perfection, with great, tasty produce.  The fries were also good, not served in quite the heaps that Five Guys does, but the burgers were the star of the show here…incredible!
The staff here was very friendly and competent.  Each meal comes with a cookie but the counter person also gave me one to sample while we waited for our food.  Great food, great service, and fast food pricing.  What more could you want?  We now have another very good place to eat on our ever-growing and long Bakersfield food list…seriously, this is such a good food city.  Come here for that if nothing else.
I hunted down the manager and let her know just how much I loved this place.
Our appetites nicely sated, our disappointment at missing Huichos subsiding, we climb into the van to make that one last trip over the Grapevine to head back home.

Darryl
Copyright 2011- Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, January 9, 2017

2016 Highlights and Lowlights


As the sun sets on 2016, we look back.

Not our busiest travel year but we still managed to hit the travel trail a bit last year, including to major international destinations. Gotta get our money's worth for those passports, you know...



HOTELS - One of the best hotels we've ever had the pleasure of staying in...and we've stayed in many...was the absolutely wonderful Hilton Prague. From the moment we stepped in the door, to the duty manager showing us a selection of rooms we could choose from, accessible bathing equipment we could choose from, very comfortable beds, quiet room with good view, great location, top-notch service from beginning to end, this was the best hotel we stayed in last year. (NOTE: This is not to be confused with the Hilton Old Town Prague a few blocks away)



Another nod to the great RIU Palace Hotel in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. The RIU's comfort, service, and amenities are top-notch. Stay in one if you ever get a chance.

We didn't stay in any really bad hotels this year but the Oxford Suites in Redding did not live up to expecations, especially as we've stayed in some very nice examples of the chain in Chico and Pismo Beach, California.  The Novotel Schwabing in Munich, Germany was also not as nice as we'd hoped it to be.

AIRLINES - Two this year, Alaska Airlines to Costa Rica provided outstanding service, comfort, on-time service, and...best of all...price.  American (with a leg by British Airways) provided us with very good service over some very long hauls across the Atlantic. Again, no bad flight hassles due to airlines, which can be pretty rare.  On the other hand...

AIRPORTS - Munich and Liberia, Costa Rica airports let us down this year.  From waiting hours with no seating and no air conditioning tropical Daniel Odubor Quiros Airport to the lack of amenities in the older part of Franz Josef Strauss Airport (especially compared to the really excellent new terminal) was a huge letdown. Berlin's Tegel Airport wasn't much better.

RENTAL CAR - A huge raspberry for Alamo Rent-A-Car in Costa Rica for blatantly trying to rip off every customer to the tune of an extra $600 for insurance and making the check-in process as miserable and long as can be. Even when you showed written proof of extensive car insurance, valid in Costa Rica, that could cover everything imaginable, you are called a liar to your face and told no American insurance is valid there (which we found is not true). On top of that, you're stuck at their depot in the middle of nowhere with a two-mile walk back to the airport...unless you want to pay $35 per person to take their shuttle bus back. A true den of vipers there, taxis are much more honest, affordable, and even wheelchair accessible there. Skip the rental car in Costa Rica, it will truly ruin your trip.

On the other hand, Hertz in Berlin and Munich were very professional, friendly, and efficient in the handling of our vehicle there.



FOOD - We had some outstanding meals this year starting with a very memorable meal of pork knuckle and pirogies at Zajasd Lesny, a 24-hour truck stop diner in the southwest corner of Poland.

The Alte Heide biergarten had the best food in Munich with its pork Cordon Bleu, German meatloaf, and steak.

Again, Taste in the Motherlode town of Plymouth in California produced a wonderful dinner.



DESTINATIONS - We've cast our shadows on the beaches and jungles of Costa Rica; the remains of the Berlin Wall; the cobblestones of Prague; the truck stops of Poland; the biergartens of Munich; the waters and trees of Redding, California, along with the state's Motherlode country.

Costa Rica is much more accessible than I thought it would be and there are some great adventures to be had. Still, the beaches left something to be desired and I really felt I had to keep a good grip on my wallet for the next rip-off that could be around the next corner.  It was nice but not as nice as I'd imagined it would be.

Redding, and the area around it, is beautiful but a little on the quiet side.

Prague was too crowded and full of tourists to be really enjoyable but the residents of that old city are very friendly and accomodating to visitors like us.

Munich has been, and will always be, one of our favorite cities in the world to visit. Wouldn't even mind living there.

But this year's most enjoyable destination was the slightly grungy, sometimes dangerous feeling, always lively, at times drop-dead-gorgeous, and extremely drenched with history, Berlin. I cannot wait to come here again.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved